How business can fight cancer

Around 325,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK, and 160,000 people die as a result of it. Over 100,000 of those diagnosed are of working age, and estimates suggest that over 750,000 people of working age are currently living with a cancer diagnosis. In the UK at the moment about one in three people get cancer of one type in their lifetime, and the cancer charity Macmillan says that figure is expected to be almost one in two by the year 2020.

The Department of Health has asked for the support of employers in the early detection of all cancers in its national plan entitled ‘Improving Outcomes’. However, the far more important point that employers need to be aware of is that, come what may, cancer will affect their employees or the partners of their employees – and therefore their business.

At some point, they will have significant downtime from those employees, and if the cancer is only picked up at a later stage then it is going to require more treatment, more time off work, more time recovering from ongoing treatment and therefore will result in a reduction in productivity from that employee.

Companies and organisations can take positive action to increase awareness of cancer, educating employees on managing any risk factors and spotting symptoms, and initiating early screening programmes within the workplace. These can operate at a number of levels. At its simplest, such a programme may involve raising awareness and knowledge via a campaign of dedicated websites, posters and brochures. This is aimed at informing the individual sufficiently that they are aware of the risks, and know what to look for – essentially putting their health back in their hands.

Early detection of cancer means, for employers, that an employee can get back to work far quicker, doing the job you want them to do. Think of it in terms of the company’s business plan for the next five years. If it was known that an imminent financial downturn was likely, any prudent company would take action to protect itself. Cancer also threatens your business – and is not just likely, but inevitable. It would make good sense, therefore, for it to be part of every responsible company’s business plan.

Other reasons why employers should take on responsibility in the fight against cancer is the impact of employees’ working environment and style on their risk of getting cancer – occupational cancers, as they’re termed, whose likelihood is increased as direct result of one’s work practices or environment.

Around 10,000 cancers in the UK are thought to be work related. Some risk factors are well-known, such as exposure to radiation, asbestos or smoke. Others are less dramatic: those who work outdoors and have prolonged exposure to sunlight, for example, have an increased the risk of skin cancer.

A few are relatively little-known. Night shift work is now understood to increase cancer risk, as is working as part of a flight crew. Today, a higher number of women work shifts that involve working at night – it’s one of the ways that women can have children but still go to work – and a large proportion of flight crews are female. These are key reasons for increases in breast cancer (night shift work also increases the risk of prostate cancer in men).

The good news is, we are successfully fighting back on several fronts. Recent statistics suggest we have reached the magic figure of 50 per cent of people surviving for ten years following cancer treatment, signalling an increase in survival rates across all cancers.

And quite apart from the lives it may save, as an investment in a company’s own resource and an exercise in boosting brand image and strengthening staff loyalty, cancer screening is invaluable. It’s a powerful way for a company to demonstrate how it values its employees.

If we do rise to this challenge, future generations will have grounds not merely to remember and reflect on this effort, but to thank us for it – for in many cases, we will have made their lives possible.

For more information on HealthScreen UK, go to

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